College attainment rates rose just 1 or 2 percentage points per decade for the first half of the 20th century and only began to pick up in the 1970s. Although the most recent data only go through 2018, the 2010s have already seen a gain of 5.1 percentage points, more than the gains in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. If the 2010s ended anything like the decade began, it will easily be the best decade we’ve ever seen in terms of college attainment.
We just went through a decade of stagnant achievement scores, and ideally we’d see improvements in both achievement and attainment. Still, I argue it’s worth celebrating the attainment gains given their link to improved life outcomes for students.
From lobsters to bikes to HBCUs, Bellwether has covered a breadth of topics tied to rural education over the last six years. While we are by no means the first group to do in-depth research on rural schools and communities, we were among the first in the education reform community to begin thinking critically about policy solutions for rural schools. And as more and more of our peers have turned their attention to the rural context, we’ve realized that there’s a lack of basic understanding of the facts about rural schools and communities.
This deck pulls together data and research on education, economic development, and more into a coherent fact base to explain the current state of rural communities and schools. It begins with an overview of the variation of communities within the rural designation in terms of their locations, economies, strengths, and challenges. For example, resort communities like Eagle County (Vail), Colorado and impoverished communities like many along the Mississippi Delta are both considered rural but have dramatically different geographic, economic, educational, and social contexts.Continue reading →
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new education agenda, announced last week, proposes to raise the city’s on-time graduation rate from 68 percent to 80 percent over the next ten years. A dramatic increase in high school graduation rates is a laudable goal and critical to championing equity; the devil will be in the details, which are yet to be made public. His plans to invest in pre-K and reading by 2nd grade are a critical foundation, but when it comes to keeping older students on track through high school, the mayor would do well to look to a new report released last week by the Center for Promise. Called Don’t Quit on Me, the report provides valuable insight into the role that relationships play in young people’s decisions to stay in high school. The findings point to three key considerations for any city seeking to build a plan to keep all youth on the path to graduation:
Take a hard look at school discipline policies.
The study found that young people who left school were more likely to have experienced multiple adverse life experiences between ages 14 and 18, compared to youth who stayed enrolled. One of the experiences that was a top predictor of leaving school before graduation was suspension or expulsion; being suspended or expelled more than doubled the odds that a young person would not complete high school.
The link between being suspended or expelled and leaving school—consistently found in other research as well—is particularly troubling given the well-documented fact these disciplinary actions are disproportionately meted out to students from certain demographic groups. For example, in the 2009-10 school year, 17 percent of Black children in grades K-12 nationally were suspended at least once—more than three times the suspension rate of white students. The suspension rate for Black students with disabilities was even higher, at one in four (25 percent). In order to keep more students enrolled and increase equity in graduation rates, it will be critical to promote school discipline policies that create safe and productive classroom environments by employing effective alternatives to out-of-school suspension.
Graduation rates aren’t a very good measure on which to hold high schools accountable.
There are a couple reasons for this. First, graduation decisions are mostly left up to the schools and districts that are supposedly accountable for them. If you hold schools and districts accountable for their graduation rates, they have an incentive to just pass more students along and out the door.
Second, graduation rates also have a long time lag between when a student begins his or her high school career and when he or she finally finishes. Although schools and districts have quite a bit of control over these things, there’s still a long time lag, and it will be hard for a superintendent or principal to show any immediate improvements.
Both of these issues can be mitigated in various ways. States adopted high school graduation exams to require all students across the state to meet the same bar. But those exams come with their own problems. To avoid the time lag problem, states could adopt retention measures calculated on an annual basis. But few states have done so. Averaging across multiple years could also help, but few states do that either, and schools still can’t move the needle very quickly.
But worst of all, graduation rates don’t tell us very much about whether students are prepared for life after graduation. Continue reading →
Something amazing is going on with high school graduation rates. In the 1990’s public high school graduation rates actually fell, from 74 percent in 1990 to 72 percent in 2000. But in the mid-2000’s they started to rise, and they really took off after NCLB’s accountability provisions took effect in 2006. We hit an all-time high in 2009, and we’ve made new highs every year since. Today, the national high school graduation rate sits at 81 percent. Continue reading →